Kerewo Agíbe Kerewo Agíbe By Thomas Schultze-Westrum From 1959 till 1970 I collected some of the most important individual skull racks, agíbe, being preserved in the Kerewo ethnic district of the Papuan Gulf (Figs. 1–5). It was after the murder of the Rev. James Chalmers and his companions at Dopima village on Goaribari Island in 1901 that the outside world took sudden notice of the headhunting practices of the Kerewo. Before setting fire to dúbu daímu longhouses, members of the punitive expedition counted 700 skulls in one and 400 in another. From that time, travellers, missionaries and administrators alike referred to the delta above all as “the headhunting country.” Agíbe Warúru from Paia’a village, Omati River, 1959 (96 cm high). I am presenting here the field data recorded in the Kerewo ethnic district. In my opinion, the oldest as well as the most powerful agíbe were collected in that area, not to the west at the Turama or Gama Rivers as Leo Austen states: “Along the Turama, the agibe was said to have been first obtained by the Umaidai tribe from the bush tribe known as Oberi or Hei, who live between the Turama and the Bamu. (The Pepeha tribe are an offshoot of these Hei.) From Umaidai it would seem that the agibe cult spread south and east over the Turama estuary, but it appears that the Baru tribe on the western bank of the Turama estuary developed the head dances and songs associated with the skulls, which finally were strung on the hooks of the agibe” (Austen, 1936, p. 342). The smaller agíbe aquired at the same location and date. The oldest preserved agíbe I encountered was named Do’utato and was made at O’uri, the first settlement on Goaribari Island. It has a peculiar ovoid shape, as is characteristic for Kiwai gópe and the prototypes made at O’uri. I discovered it at Babaguina village on the Kikori River. This prototype agíbe has retained the original ovoid shape of the Kiwai gópe—which is characteristic for all categories of spiritual board-shaped effigies of the Papuan Gulf. It also shows the distinctive decorative designs derived from the Kiwai mímia figurines. I acquired Tioni together with the associated titi ébiha Iwío in 1970 at a compound next to Kikori government station. The species of wood used for making agíbe Do’utato is different from the heavy hardwood of other old agíbe (it may have undergone decay quicker than the hardwood examples). Perhaps this specimen is an old copy of Do’utato, which was possibly lost a long time ago. Note that the edges of the design, titi, are sharp as if they were cut with an iron tool. This agíbe, Do’utato, is now part of the Jolika Collection in the de Young Museum of San Francisco and was carbon-dated to 1510–1820. From the owners and other men present at the time of negotiations I did not get any clear information that would confirm whether Do’utato is the original or a copy. This magnificent agíbe was taken in a raid from Dádebi Village, Turama ethnic district. It was named there Doribe. After the transfer to the Kerewo village of Aimahe (before 1901 = the murder of Rev. James Chalmers) the agíbe was named Tioni. I acquired Tioni from the owner Nanai Gigawe at Bababuina Village. My first visit to the Kerewo village of Paia’a at the Omati River was in 1959. I acquired the (male?) agíbe Wararu, which had already been photographed by Paul Wirz in 1930, and a smaller (female?) one. For this couple we built a new shrine with head trophies from other Kerewo villages. About five years later the collector Roy James Hedlund purchased the dominating agíbe Aiba’umè of the Paia’a I dúbu daímu longhouse (now in the Metropolitan Museum. Unfortunately, the great mass of skulls associated with that agíbe was dumped on an outside platform exposed to the weather. Another individual agíbe was taken out from the Gulf by some French/Belgian collectors in the early 1970s and sold in Paris (Bellier, 1974). I photographed this superb agíbe in 1966 in situ at Dubumba village, Kerewo ethnic district (Fig. 12, cf. Fig. 51 in Schultze-Westrum, 1972, and Fig. 77 in Craig, 2010). Paul B. von Rautenfeld first photographed this agíbe in 1925. Agíbe Do'utato. The agíbe Asa at Dopima, which was photographed by Paul B. von Rautenfeld in 1925 and Paul Wirz in 1930, was supposedly destroyed by fire in 1961—at least that is the story I was told when I made enquiries about the agíbe in 1966 at Dopima. I, of course, wished the informants were wrong and this great agíbe still existed—perhaps somewhere in a private collection. There is some confusion about the place name, though: Paul B. von Rautenfeld, who was usually very precise in the handwritten captions to his photographs, took Asa’s picture at Dopima on 11 May 1925. The Hood Museum catalogue’s second author, Virginia-Lee Webb, indicates “the village of Kerewa” as the original location. But Hedlund left the information that he found Asa (his spelling is “Sasa”) in Ubuo village (his spelling is “Obuo”) of the Kerewo ethnic district. Anyway, Asa still survives, and the locals were probably just too shy to admit that they had sold their once powerful spirit to the American collector. The ancient agíbe Do'utato at Babaguina Village. In Kerewo villages, the skull trophies, e’épu, were attached by a rattan cane, odóiwi, extending from the jaws to one of the two hooks of the agíbe. The nose was extended by another rattan support beyond the natural length of the nose, wódi, and a piece of fairly soft sago stick was fitted into each eyehole. The face was then modelled by clay and in the eyeholes was placed a cowry or another type of (round) marine snail disk, gemúbi. One specimen I saw on Goaribari Island had the button of a modern shirt attached instead. There are no elaborate incisions to be found on the forehead of any of these trophies; only a simple geometrical titi of the design common on mímia figurines of the Kiwai district are occasionally seen. The skulls rest on a platform made of sago palm frond sticks, fitted together by wooden pegs and suspended by rattan. Detail of agíbe Do'utato. Such platforms were built inside the compartments of the dúbu daímu. In several instances there were two agíbe figures placed in one skull shrine, a larger male and a smaller female individual. Leo Austen, in his article “Head Dances of the Turama River,” notes: “It does not seem that the agibe has any ancestral significance, though each agibe has a clan name” (Austen, 1936, p. 342). Male (in the foreground) and female agíbe, photographed by P. Wirz 1930. Photo courtesy of Museum der Kulturen Basel. It has been suggested that the skulls suspended from the agíbe effigies represent not only headhunting trophies but also those of relatives and other members of their own community (Welsch, 2006, p. 43). How can one imagine the preparation of head trophies and skulls of deceased relatives being performed in an identical way? There is no evidence whatsoever that the skulls in the dúbu daímu are other than the trophies taken during raids and in other hostile encounters. The two agíbe from Paia'a on a model shrine, with attached Kerewo skulls. One last note: At Goáre (Kerewo ethnic district, 1968) I asked how agíbe got their individual names. I was told: “A man goes to sleep in the bush. The spirit of the agíbe (éhiba) enters him. The spirit says: This is my name. The man is getting very strong, he is getting an éhiba mére. He keeps the name secret until shortly before his death. Only once the éhiba spirit is inside him does he make the agíbe. He now can perform unusual things, like drifting in the air or sucking illness from the bodies of other people. When in the bush the man must listen very carefully to catch the name.” The agíbe Aiba'umè of Paia'a village. After Roy Hedlund acquired the agile Aiba'umè of Paia'a village (which I did not try to collect) in the early 1960ies, the skull trophies accumulated on the agíbe platform were dumped outside the dúbu daímu. None were preserved. I found this agíbe in the same sea-wards settlement of the Kerewo uóbi, Dubumba. I did not try to acquire this impressive agíbe because the skull shrine was still intact. This photograph was taken in 1966. Paul B. von Rautenfeld photograph of Dubumba agíbe in 1925. Backside of Paul B. von Rautenfeld photograph of Dubumba agíbe. The agíbe Asa at Dopima Village, Goarebari Island, photographed by P. Wirz 1930. Photo courtesy of Museum der Kulturen Basel. Nanai Gigawe of Babaguina village. The agíbe Tioni, photographed before 1970 by George Craig at Paia'a village. It was owned by ex-policeman Owamu.